Helmsley Walled Garden
Firstly, sorry I haven't written here for a while but sometimes it's good to take a break. The world seems like a fairly daunting place at this moment in time and in truth I feel a little overwhelmed by it all. The constant bombardment of bad news - crazy American politicians, scary clowns jumping out at kids going to school, Brexit.....I'm saddened like I'm sure most of you are by these troubling events. But there are so many good things in this world and those are what I'm determined to focus on. One of these is the beautiful Helmsley Walled Garden in North Yorkshire, a place I've had on my list to see for years. We took ourselves away for the day to enjoy the garden in Autumn before in closes for the season at the end of October.
Nestled between a medieval castle and the historic estate of Duncombe Park, the walled garden is a tranquil place to enjoy the landscape, seek inspiration and enjoy the stunning planting throughout the seasons. Originally created by the wealthy Duncombe family to grow vegetables, fruit and flowers, the garden also took on a vital food production role for the local community during the First and Second World Wars, then becoming a commercial enterprise. Sadly the gates were closed in 1982, the glasshouses fell into disrepair and the weeds allowed to take over. Over ten years later, local resident Alison Ticehurst decided to restore the five acre garden and with a group of friends and volunteers they set about clearing the paths, repairing the Victorian glasshouses and cutting down the gigantic weeds that had taken over. Their ethos was to create a garden that would be a haven for the community as well as being a place to help those in need (Helmsley is a centre for horticultural therapy, supporting and developing people with their mental and physical well being through gardening). Sadly, Alison passed away before the renovations were complete and the gardens are now looked after by a small team as well as several dedicated local volunteers.
Alison’s ethos of creating a space that supports and heals flows throughout. Volunteers and staff chat with visitors and happily share their gardening knowledge and exchange ideas. It is a garden that has an informal, gentle feel and as you wander the paths you can’t help but relax in the power of flowers and nature.
The double herbacious border that follow the path to the orchid house is known as the hot border. In the summer it is bursting with reds, yellows and oranges, in October it takes on a more mellow, muted feel but there is still so much to appreciate. From vibrant shades of dahlias, echinacea, asters to the gorgeous golden rudbeckia that still look glorious at this time of year and provide the bees and butterflies with some much needed nectar.
Aster 'Alma Potschke' is perfect for the autumn garden as it flowers throughout September and October. Laden with pollen and nectar it is the perfect plant for pollinators in the Autumn garden. Dahlia 'David Howard' has a long flowering period from July - October and makes a beautiful cut flower. It shows off it's glorious soft burnt-orange flower head against the dramatic dark purple foliage and is planted here next to long stems of fennel.
Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' looks beautiful right up until the first frosts and the seedheads offer winter interest in the garden too. It's spectacular grown in mass plantings at Helmsley and instantly draws the eye to its beauty.
Dahlia 'Pontiac' was one of my favourites at Helmsley as it is an extraordinary looking plant and so vibrant in the late border. Part of the cactus dahlia family, their star like heads prevent them from being weighed down by heavy rain or damaged by high winds and they usually need very little staking.
Planted in front of the metal sweet pea supports and taking prominence among perennials and autumn fruiting raspberries, these zinnias were grown from a packet of seed mix and offer a long flowering period from July until the first frosts. They are also perfect for cutting.
The kitchen garden supplies the café with its own homegrown produce and edible flowers. There is also an area allocated for allotments. Locals are encouraged to grow whatever they want in the raised beds - flowers for cutting or produce, isn't that such a nice way to bring a community together?
Autumn fruits were abundant in the orchard area and I've never seen such huge pears and apples growing on trees before. Many were grown on step-overs and cordons - great for space saving if you only have a small garden and want to grow fruit. Every year in October Helmsley holds an Apple Day where they harvest, press and make juice for everyone to taste. We'll have to go back next year for this as I was stunned by how many Yorkshire varieties they were growing.
Having completed our tour of the garden we headed for lunch in the Vine House Cafe in the glasshouse. Sitting under the grape vines, it's a warm and cosy spot with plenty of rustic charm. Each table decorated with flowers freshly cut from the garden and there is also a pretty display of flowers in little vintage bottles and apothecary jars, each one labelled to help with identification.
The menu in the cafe is simple yet impressive, with the emphasis on seasonal food and what is growing in the garden. My lunch was a greek inspired stew of spiced beans, tomatoes and feta, served with homemade pitta bread. It was unbelievably good. Afterwards we wandered through the Orchid House, the salad glasshouse and had a browse of the plant shop before heading homewards. I left feeling more inspired than I have in a while - the power of nature and plants really do heal.
Helmsley is a special place indeed and we'll be going back there in Spring to see how the garden has changed. Although it closes at the end of October, it is open for special events over the winter period with Christmas shopping days and wreath making workshops. Details are over on their Facebook page and the website.
It costs £7.50 for adults to the garden, kids go free and if you gift aid your ticket, entry is valid for one year. Parking is in Helmsley Town Centre and the garden is only a few minutes walk away.